Forests & Habitat

Howard County’s rich farm­land and abun­dant forests cre­ate an ideal set­ting that nat­u­rally attracts a vari­ety of wildlife. Over 150 species of birds, fish, mam­mals, plants, and rep­tiles call this area home. Pre­serv­ing the envi­ron­ment while pro­tect­ing the safety of all of its res­i­dents (humans, ani­mals, and plants) is a del­i­cate bal­ance, but vital to the pro­tec­tion of our land and its inhabitants.

howard county maryland


Con­ser­va­tion helps ensure the pro­tec­tion of the trees and forests and there are many rea­sons to con­serve and man­age this pre­cious resource.

Oxy­gen Pro­duc­tion: Forests are a major source of oxy­gen pro­duc­tion, which makes us all breathe much easier.

Ripar­ian For­est Buffers: Forests along streams and rivers reduce the amount of sed­i­ment and excess nutri­ent runoff by trap­ping and absorb­ing these pol­lu­tants as they move through the landscape.

Flood Con­trol: Forests can soak up nearly eight inches of rain per hour help­ing to reduce runoff and there­fore less­en­ing the fre­quency and sever­ity of flood­ing and its effects.

Ground­wa­ter Recharge: Through the absorp­tion of rain­fall, the forests help recharge ground­wa­ter by slowly releas­ing it into streams and under­ground aquifers.

Wildlife Habi­tat: There are hun­dreds of ani­mals that make the for­est their home, includ­ing mam­mals, amphib­ians, rep­tiles, fish, insects and birds. Not only do they rely on this ecosys­tem for shel­ter but also for food, water and nest­ing areas.

Wood Resources: All of us come in con­tact with some type of wood prod­uct every­day. With­out man­ag­ing our forests we could endan­ger our abil­ity to uti­lize this resource for homes, fur­ni­ture, the daily news­pa­per, craft projects or even that cozy crack­ling fire in winter.

Scenic Beauty: Often over­looked is the aes­thetic value of our forests. You most likely have enjoyed the scent of the spring for­est with its beau­ti­ful flow­ers or cer­tainly mar­veled at the bril­liant col­ors of the leaves in autumn.

Recre­ational Oppor­tu­ni­ties: There are many recre­ational oppor­tu­ni­ties in the for­est such as hik­ing, camp­ing, hunt­ing, bird watch­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy, just to name a few.

Gen­er­a­tions to Come: Lastly, let us not for­get that our gen­er­a­tion is only here for a short time. It is imper­a­tive that we man­age these lands to ensure their long-term via­bil­ity for future generations.

Howard County Tree Canopy

In 2019 the University of Maryland Baltimore County began creating tree canopy maps for Howard County based on land cover data from The Chesapeake Conservancy. The main goal was to establish a new tree canopy baseline for Howard County utilizing land cover data with finer resolution than previously available.

The project resulted in a report which categorized different types of tree canopy and their abundance across various land uses. The report states that in 2018 Howard County had tree canopy present over 49.1% of the County, including tree canopy over impervious surfaces, such as pavement and other water-resistant materials. Tree canopy over pervious surfaces, such as grass and planted areas, cover 47.2% of the County.  The report is linked here.

Using higher resolution data led to a more accurate tree canopy baseline. However, this same data picks up many trees that previously would not have been recorded and therefore this data set is not reliably comparable with earlier datasets.  However, data from 2013 and 2018 are very comparable since they use the same methodology. The 2007 data (included in the interactive map below) may be useful for some applications but should not be directly compared to 2013 or 2018 data without consideration of the differences in the data sets.

Howard County Tree Canopy Interactive Map Snapshot

In this snapshot of the interactive map, canopy loss is shown in yellow, canopy gain in light blue, and canopy maintained between 2013 and 2018 in green.

Click here to view the Howard County Tree Canopy Interactive Map. 

Instructions For Use

  • Zoom into your area of interest. Data cannot be shown for the entire County at one time through this application because these data sets are so large.
  • Select the year of tree data you wish to see: 2007, 2013, and 2018.
  • Toggle the transparency of the layers or turn them on and off on the left hand side to reveal patterns of canopy gain, retention, or loss.

For­est Conservation

Howard County’s For­est Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gram was imple­mented in 1993. To date, thousands of acres across Howard County have been pro­tected in per­pe­tu­ity through the cre­ation of hun­dreds of for­est con­ser­va­tion ease­ments. Although some of these are located on pub­lic land, many are located on com­monly owned com­mu­nity open space, and may also be located on pri­vate prop­erty.

The Howard County Depart­ment of Plan­ning and Zoning’s For­est Con­ser­va­tion infor­ma­tion can be found on their Envi­ron­men­tal Plan­ning web­page. You can learn more about how to care for forested areas near your home and more by view­ing the Edu­ca­tional Guides to For­est Con­ser­va­tion Easements.

Howard County’s Recre­ation and Parks Depart­ment mon­i­tors, pro­tects, and enhances forest conservation areas. To learn more about forest conservation inspections, enforcement, and outreach please visit the Nat­ural Resources web­page explains their pro­grams includ­ing For­est Con­ser­va­tion inspec­tions and enforce­ment.

Environmental Areas

Howard County has a num­ber of sites des­ig­nated as envi­ron­men­tal areas. These are sites where no sports or orga­nized ath­letic activ­i­ties are allowed. They were set aside for the pur­pose of pro­tect­ing and con­serv­ing the nat­ural resources and are there for the enjoyment of those who take plea­sure in pas­sive recre­ational activ­i­ties such as walking/hiking, bird watch­ing, plant and ani­mal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, pho­tog­ra­phy, etc. They all fea­ture walk­ing paths or trails and offer a broad vari­ety of habi­tats and ecosys­tems for your view­ing plea­sure.

There are many more Howard County parks and trails for you to explore.

For a list­ing of parks and envi­ron­men­tal areas, please visit the Howard County Parks Directory. Or check out the List of Trail Maps You will find more details about the parks, for­est con­ser­va­tion and wildlife. Or try the Rec and Parks Find Your Park App available in the Apple Store or Google Play store

Mid­dle Patux­ent Envi­ron­men­tal Area (MPEA)

Howard County Depart­ment of Recre­ation and Parks man­ages the 1,021-acre Mid­dle Patuxent Envi­ron­men­tal Area (MPEA) in coop­er­a­tion with the Mid­dle Patux­ent Environmental Foun­da­tion. The upland and bot­tom­land hard­wood for­est, fields, wet­lands, ponds, and ripar­ian (river­ine) habi­tats are home to a diver­sity of wildlife, includ­ing an impres­sive list of about 150 species of birds, over 40 species of mam­mals, and numer­ous amphib­ians, rep­tiles, fishes, but­ter­flies, plants and other wildlife.

David Force Stream Val­ley Park

This park is a 221-acre nat­ural resource area that is rel­a­tively undis­turbed. This area is allowed to remain as an impor­tant forested area to pro­tect water qual­ity, pro­vide habi­tat for wildlife, and sup­port recre­ational hik­ing and nature obser­va­tion.

Font Hill Wet­lands Park

This envi­ron­men­tal edu­ca­tion park fea­tures mostly open and lightly wooded areas, hard sur­faced paths and board­walks, two ponds (fish­ing only at large pond on Cen­ten­nial Lane side of park), obser­va­tion areas, and a stream. (25 acres) Park­ing only on Font Hill Drive side of park.

Patux­ent Branch Trail

Mostly wooded fea­tur­ing a scenic path­way (3.4 miles total) with his­toric inter­pre­tive signs. This sec­tion of path­way con­nects Sav­age to the Lake Elkhorn loop path (hard surfaced).

Wildlife Management

Recreation and Parks also has programs to manage wildlife in natural areas. To learn more about Deer Management and more, please visit their Wildlife page.